LIKE A lot ofplayers, Pitt's DeJuan Blair spent the off-season adding a new wrinkle to hisgame—in his case, a little 10- to 12-foot jump shot to extend his range awayfrom the basket. But the sophomore power forward also devoted considerableenergy to subtracting something. This winter the 6'7" Blair, whose ampleframe has often been compared with that of Charles Barkley, and who last Marchwas described by one overwrought ESPN announcer as "bootylicious," willbe carrying slightly less junk in his trunk. After several months in the weightroom (and away from the training table), he's down to 265 pounds, about 10below his playing weight last season. "It's to help me run up and down thecourt," he says. "I wanted to be a little more lean."
A streamlinedmodel of the Blair who bashed his way through the Big East last season shouldstrike fear into the heart of even the sturdiest low-post player. A native ofPittsburgh's Hill District who grew up less than a half mile from the PetersenEvents Center, Blair's physical game and 7'2" wingspan made him a terror inthe paint at both ends of the floor as the Panthers surprised the league bywinning the Big East tournament in March. He led the conference in offensiverebounds (3.9 per game) and frequently finished with a go-to move amusinglydescribed by point guard Levance Fields as "bangin' and a jumphook."
Blair's powerfulstyle is a perfect complement to the athleticism of his frontcourtmate,high-flying 6'6" senior Sam Young. A dazzling dunker, Young is coming off abreakout year in which he set the school single-season record for points. Keyto his development was the addition of a pull-up jumper, as well as improvedaccuracy from long range—he shot a career-best 38.3% from behind thethree-point line.
Young's strokewill relieve pressure on a talented but shallow backcourt of Fields, a senior,and sophomore swingman Gilbert Brown. Joining them are a pair of promisingfreshmen, Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall. Both will see plenty of time earlyon as Fields recovers from a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot, whichcaused him to miss a third of last season before he returned last February.
The development oftheir young guards will be a big factor in how far the Panthers go in thisyear's postseason. Fortunately, they're not being asked to carry the team."Shooting threes is going to be tougher for everybody this year," saysDixon, noting the more distant three-point line. "At the end of the day,you've still got to be able to rebound and defend."
With Blair, Pitthas both areas well covered.
*HIGH SCHOOL STATS
at Florida State
*Legends Classic,in Newark (also Mississippi State, Washington State)
It's not a marquee matchup—the Seminoles aren't in anybody's Top 25—but thiswill be the Panthers' only game in a hostile home arena before Big East playbegins, and should provide valuable experience to Pitt's freshmen.
Jamie Dixon (6th year)
Big East record
With the experience of two seniors plus a talented sophomore, the Pittfrontcourt makes Luke Winn's list of the top 15 in the nation.
All Within Reach Blair's 7'2" wingspan makes him a threat on defense and on the boards.